There are two things that my mother brags about quite frequently. One is, I’ve mentioned before – getting an A during her PMR exam for art, despite not knowing how to draw feet. The second is that as a uni student in the 70s in the UK, she went on a walking holiday with her British friend.
As though to relive the moment, she announced that she had planned a walk by the coastal path in St. Andrews, an ambitious plan of walking from the town centre all the way to Anstruther, a beautiful fishing village about 15 miles away from the city centre.
‘We will start in the morning, around 8am. Giving ourselves about 4 to 5 hours, we should arrive in Anstruther for lunch.’
Anstruther is famous for its fish and chips. Their restaurant had been an award winning one, winning the best fish and chips award in the UK. As a a self-proclaimed foodie, I had been looking forward to eating this for a long time, despite it being calorie laden.
‘We will be working up a sweat and therefore, burning calories. That way, we won’t put on weight.’ I said.
My dad refused to join along, insisting that something would go wrong.
‘Have you looked up how you’re going to get there?’
‘You’re going to get lost.’
‘How hard can it be? This is Britain. There will be plenty of signboards to say where we are. And it’s not like they’re going to mislabel them like in Malaysia.’
My mother privately told me that all the talk about not being prepared was just an excuse. He was just plain lazy and insisted that the rest of us should set a good example to my father.
‘That way, when we eat fish and chips, and not put on weight, Ayah will regret not joining us.’
The beginning of the path was absolutely beautiful. Breathtaking. It was close by the coast and the weather, despite it being slightly chilly was sunny and perfect. We kept stopping every few metres just to take in the beautiful scenery, and I thought, how lucky was Hani to study here. How lucky were the Scots to be bestowed with such a beautiful country that even their weeds look like flowers. Our weeds just look like they’re going to eat us. Or hide a snake in there.
There were many families walking down the coastal path, all taking in the beautiful view. I thought what a wonderful day this was going to be.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an entry by me if Something. Did. Not. Go. Wrong. In true Amiruddin fashion, things did.
Firstly, the easy, walkable path suddenly became much, much steeper. Instead of a steady incline, we started going up and down the hills on very slippery rocks. The familes that accompanied us began to disappear, and soon we were the only family by the rocky beaches, heading further away from roads and civilization.
‘Are you sure about this?’ I asked Umi.
‘You said the path is easy! This is not easy, we had to climb over fences, are you sure we’re not trespassing!’
‘Oh, God, you’re such city children. Climbing over fences is normal for coastal walks.’
We were city children, I admit. The last time I actually went hiking was in 2005 and I gave up halfway because I was too tired. My brother, the Artist was whining about how there was mud everywhere and it was getting on his shoes. My sister, the hipster, was well, dressed like a hipster hiker, complete with the clinch belt, long cardigan and skinny jeans while going hiking.
On the other hand, my mother is well-known for her direction skills. Or lack thereof. As I always say, my hopelessness when it comes to spatial recognition had to be inherited from somewhere. My mum is the sort who would bossily tell us to drive up a ramp before saying, ‘Uh, so where does this ramp go?’
The only person who was not whining was Eizwan who was falling behind very often because he was admiring the sights and scenery. Then again, Eizwan rarely whined about anything and in fact, was rather excited about the probability that we would have to sleep on bunk beds in a hostel.
‘No,’ Umi said stubbornly. ‘We keep going. We’re getting to Anstruther and we’re going to call Ayah from there to meet us there.’
Soon though, we were going down messy ravines, slippery stones, overgrown weeds and going closer and closer towards the beach. It was becoming supremely hard to walk, I’d slip, and I was reluctant to stop myself from falling in case I’d grab onto stinging nettles. Two hours into the walk and I was convinced, all the plants around me were stinging nettles. No, Scottish countryside. You’re no longer pretty. You could not hear the road by now, it was just us and the sea. A sign warned us to watch out for high tide and I realized that we were actually walking on the beach itself which was susceptible to the rising tide. Visions of a Malaysian family drowning while walking on the coastal path, followed.
This could not have been a coastal path since it was supposed to be, you know, easy. Unless Scottish Tourism had a deathwish for their visitors, we were clearly lost and had gone off the wrong way.
To make matters worse, there was no reception on the mobile. I then imagined that Ayah would eventually have to call rescuers because we never called and we would have to be rescued in the evening. How embarrasing. And I only agreed to do this for my fish and chips.
Soon we came to a forkroad. One path was by the beach filled with sharp rocks, while the other was up a ravine to the golf course. The ravine was steep, like proper hiking steep while walking on the beach risked falling onto sharp rocks and drowning.
“Shall we go walk by the beach?” my mother asked.
The family disagreed with her like mutinous sailors. We instead decided to scarper up the steep slope, frequently holding onto the muddy sides as not to fall down. I did fall down. And so did Umi. Hani and Jan, so eager were they to escape this “easy” coastal path, practically ran up the slope leaving me, Eizwan and my Mum to venture alone.
Apparently when they climbed out of the ravine, a rescuer had come along, noticing the family in distress and clearly having lost their way looking for the coastal path. “Are you guys looking for the coastal path?” he asked my brother and sister. “Do you need help?”
In true proud Asian fashion, they said, “We are fiiiine. Nah, we’re just about leaving it.”
Yes, we meant to do all that. We meant to get spectacularly lost and climb up ravines and stuff.
We finally got out of the ‘coastal path’, with my mother proclaiming that was just brilliant and that we should continue on further. Jan and Hani, loudly disagreed, or as loudly as we could disagree on a golf course. We were muddy and cold and just wanted to go home. In fact, we were only a mile away from Balmashie and the two of them wanted to just go back and take a shower. (Let us not discuss after all that trekking, we were only about a mile away from Balmashie. So much for the 15 mile journey to Anstruther)
But my mother, being my mother was still insistent we city children knew not of what country walks were like. Umi headed off again and the rest of us dutifully followed, not wanting to let our mother get lost, through the golf course and into a jungle of a farmland where the grasses were taller than my waist.
At the sight of the disappearing path, she finally sighed. Disappointed, we turned around to walk away.
So we set off in the golf course, trying to find our way back. We also got lost here, but I’m not going to regale the tales of us getting lost on the course because that would be too embarrassing. If you’ve ever wondered if you could get lost on a golf course, let me be the first to assure you, that yes, you could.
We came home to find my dad lying down on the sofa sleeping, with his phone beside him, ready to go when his family called them up to meet him at Anstruther. Of course, he was a little shocked that we were already home and looking like what the cat would drag in after a night of hunting a nest of mice.
No words could describe the look on my father’s face. It was a kind of glee mixed with an ‘I told you so.’ He spent the rest of the day telling us how smart he was for skipping out on the walk.
Drank quite a lot of coffee in town. St. Andrews is absolutely beautiful. I want to study here now. Maybe a Masters in Literature.
Umi told the owners of the Balmashie Lodge that the coastal path around St. Andrews being very difficult and almost impossible. They were flabbergasted. Because apparently we found out from the owners of the Balmashie Lodge that there was a coastal path on the golf course.
‘You should have asked us!’ they said. ‘We’ll show you the right way. It’s a really easy walk.”